Freedom of the press refers to the freedom of individuals and/or organisations to express themselves freely via the media, whether that be print, broadcast or online. In the eyes of most political scientists, philosophers and perhaps most importantly journalists, free press is a necessary component to a functioning liberal democracy. We need a free press; we need journalists to be able to hold politicians accountable for their actions, to criticise those with power, to function as a voice for the general population, without free press society as a whole is unable to express itself effectively. In conjunction with free speech, freedom of religion and freedom to organise, freedom of the press is a primary component in a democratic society, the press is routinely called the Fourth Estate; the component of government designed to keep the other Estates in check. I would like to think that any rational minded person can understand why Free Press is so incredibly necessary but in doing so I am faced with another realisation that there is a mass increased in irrational people in the world.
That’s footage of protests from Turkey, where earlier this month the Erdogan government recently seized control of the country’s largest newspaper. In China news media is so heavily regulated by the government that in 2015 Reporters Without Borders ranked China at 176th in the world, the only countries worse off were North Korea, Turkmenistan, Eritrea and Syria. In case you’re unfamiliar those four countries are all dictatorships, with Syria currently being embroiled in a civil war between Islamic extremists and a dictatorial government that isn’t above using chemical weaponry on its own citizens. Now in case you’re wondering who has the greatest level of press freedom that’d be Finland, Norway, Denmark, The Netherlands and Sweden, which might suggest that the countries with the highest level of education and best healthcare just also happen to have the highest level of freedom to criticise government. 2015 Free Press Index
Now here’s the more frightening part; Australia currently is ranked 25th which might not seem too bad, except our neighbouring country of New Zealand is ranked at 6th, another high ranking OECD nation in Canada is ranked 8th. What’s perhaps more frightening is that the United Kingdom is ranked 34th, France is ranked 38th and the United States has slipped all the way to 49th. For three of the world leaders to be continuously sliding down the scale one might be worried that the free press is slowly being phased out in these countries and you’d be correct, State/Provincial and Federal Laws in Australia, France, the UK and the USA have been passed to cripple journalism, in Australia laws were specifically passed to gag reporters and whistle blowers from reporting on conditions in detention centres. All four countries have enacted data surveillance laws giving government agencies greater power in monitoring the activities of individual citizens and news organisations.
Government trying to take control of the press is nothing new, government in general doesn’t like the power the press has to criticise them in the public eye. What is new is the calls from citizens, the very people given a voice by the free press to place limitations on what journalists can report. It sounds like a bad joke, but the truth is no one should be laughing at this point. In 2014 the UK passed laws against online trolling, while passed under the pretense of “preventing online harassment”, the reality has been that these laws have been enforced against anyone who has the audacity to criticise a popular opinion and there’s been motions to adopt these laws in other parts of the world. Earlier this year Gregory Allan Elliott was acquitted of “twitter harassment”, a case that saw Mr Elliott barred from accessing the internet for three years Source. In 2015 an Australian journalist working for SBS was fired after posting controversial tweets regarding the 25th of April, ANZAC day celebration, the vast majority of the public applauded this decision. Source Let’s go over that again; the public applauded a journalist being silenced for expressing an opinion.
Historically efforts to quash free press have been associated with authoritarian right-wing movements. Benito Mussolini was an avid fan of controlling the media, so too was Joseph Goebbels, Joseph Stalin, Saddam Hussein, Fidel Castro and Ayatollah Khomeini. All men typically associated with extreme totalitarian governance and the inhibition of individual rights, so it’s understandable that most would assume limitations on the press are being pushed by those on the political right. Unfortunately this couldn’t be further from the truth; various left-wing groups, most notably “student activists” have been excessively advocating for the elimination of a free press. They use slogans such as “hate speech isn’t free speech”, in spite of the reality that “hate speech” is one of the most controversial and subjective legal concepts in the world today. They advocate in support of legislation that limits freedom of speech and the press and then seem genuinely mystified when these very laws come back to bite them, as was the case when Basar Mustafa, a student diversity officer, was arrested for a number of tweets that called for the deaths of white men. Mustafa’s defence was “I can’t be racist towards white men” which is all kinds of hilarious as she apparently subscribes to a very different understanding of the word racism than every dictionary ever. Source.
The irony of that particular situation was that Basar Mustafa’s most avid defenders were the white men she so eagerly despised. Popular online personality Thunderf00t, real name Dr Phil Mason, rushed to Mustafa’s defence, arguing that arresting people for saying things online was a breach of free speech. To add to the irony, Mustafa and many of her “activist” colleagues, were part of a campaign to have Dr Mason fired from his university research position. So far, many of these laws have been struck down by the judiciary and as a reaction the left-leaning “activists” have instead taken to a new method of addressing their hatred for journalists; assault. Here’s footage of Canadian journalist Lauren Southern being assaulted by a group of feminist protestors:
For people claiming to advocate women’s rights, it seems somewhat counter-productive to be dousing a female journalist in urine. Some might try the age old argument that this was an isolated incident that isn’t representative of left-leaning activists as a whole and you’d be right, so I went and got some more incidents; this is Professor Melissa Click of Missouri State University, Ms Click was charged of third-degree assault against a student journalist who was attempting to cover the “Mizzou Protests”, in fact Ms Click and many protestors at the event were captured verbally and physical abusing a number of journalists in a public space, simply for trying to report the news.
So far we’ve got two incidents and the list goes on; Conservative columnist Milo Yiannopolous was engaged in a Q&A session at Rutgers University when he was interrupted by a group of student feminist activists and members of the Black Lives Matter movement, despite being a private event the students attempted to engage in a “no platform” effort, chanting and screaming in an effort to drown out Yiannopolous from finishing his opening speech, instead of engaging in a rational debate which was openly offered by the event organisers.
Here’s Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders being threatened by members of Black Lives Matter during a speech early in his campaign:
Some have pointed out that Senator Sanders as a Jewish American who worked directly with Martin Luther King in the civil rights movement wasn’t the best target when trying to imply racism. Stepping outside that context though, you’re still seeing a 70-year-old man trying to address the public at an event he organised being silenced and threatened by people claiming to be “tolerant”. Even when we look beyond the physical confrontations, there are even examples of members of the press turning on other members of the press; in 2015 the shocking Charlie Hebdo attacks that saw extremist gunmen murder multiple satirical journalists led to an immediate outcry in support for free speech and then less than a week later a sudden outburst of criticism of the writers instead of the men that took their lives. Source
The reality of the situation is this; free speech and freedom of the press are necessary aspects of a functioning liberal society. Today these concepts are under siege by the very people who should be defending them above all else, if there’s one thing you take away from reading this let it be this; you mightn’t be fussed when you see a journalist you don’t like such as Andrew Bolt getting hit by the laws that limit free expression, but just because the opinion you hold is popular today, doesn’t guarantee that it will be tomorrow. The creation of legislation and culture that seeks to eliminate free speech is a serious problem that must be addressed immediately, unless we find ourselves living under a regime that allows citizens to be imprisoned on the basis of what they think.